Hong Kong’s strict coronavirus quarantine arrangements, which impose a 21-day confinement period for fully vaccinated travellers from high-risk countries, are “unnecessarily long,” according to a health expert.

Ben Cowling, an infectious disease and epidemiology expert at the University of Hong Kong, told HKFP the three-week quarantine period only made sense if the policy was designed to deter travellers from entering or leaving the city.

A traveller in the Hong Kong International Airport. File photo: GovHK.

“Whenever you think about a policy, you have to think about the aim of policy,” Cowling said on Tuesday. “If we are just thinking about a policy to stop infected people from coming in, then ten days [of quarantine] is enough, and 14 days is more than enough.”

“But if the policy is to discourage travellers from coming and people from leaving Hong Kong… and reduce the number of people coming because of the limited number of hotel rooms, then 21 days makes sense,” he said.

“Extending to 21 days can reduce the overall number of travellers, but that could also be achieved by reducing the number of quarantine hotel rooms available for booking.”

Singapore announced last Friday it was shortening its mandatory quarantine period from 14 days to ten in view of the Delta variant’s shorter incubation period.

Mandatory quarantine

Hong Kong’s quarantine arrangements differ according to where travellers board their flight and whether they are fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated Hong Kong residents from “high risk countries” and unvaccinated travellers from “medium-risk” countries must all serve 21 days of hotel quarantine.

Fully vaccinated foreign domestic workers from the Philippines and Indonesia are also required to serve three weeks.

Hong Kong’s quarantine measures are among the strictest in the world, and have been strongly criticised by the city’s international business community. The European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong slammed the regulations, saying they jeopardised its role as an international financial centre.

Photo: Rhoda Kwan/HKFP.

The city’s leader Carrie Lam has nonetheless ruled out any alternatives to her government’s “zero-Covid” strategy.

Hong Kong’s infections have remained low since June. It reported two new infections on Tuesday, both of which were imported. As of Tuesday, the city of 7.4 million had recorded 12,147 infections since the start of the pandemic with 213 deaths.

Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.